Scientific programme description

Music has existed in some form in every culture the world over, throughout mankind’s history. Most people in our society today spend both time and resources listening to music, and many also sing or play an instrument. Although this in itself gives both pleasure and satisfaction, we know that musical engagement also effects us in many other ways. Physiological reactions have been documented by research, including the connection between musical engagement, cognitive ability and physical and mental health. Why this connection exists is still a mystery, as is the reason why so many people choose to dedicate themselves entirely or partly to music.

An increase in knowledge within these areas would make it possible to utilise music more effectively as a cultural pheonomenom, for example by encouraging health-beneficial habits and by helping people with special needs. A large part of the research conducted in this area focuses on finding correlations in cross-sectional studies, which can document their currently established connections but not their root causes, i.e. what causes what. Music and culture are integrated and are present throughout our lives; it takes a long time to learn to make music and parents, teachers and other role models are very influential. All of these factors make it very difficult, and in many cases impossible, to study the causal relationships experimentally.

In this programme we address a number of elementary questions regarding music making and the relationships with other variables using a behavioral genetic approach. The logic of this is that instead of just studying the connection between environmental factors and the behaviours and abilities that are of interest – connections that to a large degree are already known – we study the behavioral genetic effects together with environmental factors, and by so doing are able to measure both inherited and environmental influences. The programme is groundbreaking in its use of the twin database with over 11000 twins to collect data about behaviour and self assessments of musical experience, personality, motivation and creativity (among other factors). Nothing like this has been attempted before using so many pairs of twins, and the large numbers involved makes it possible to answer specific questions. This is achieved by dividing them into subgroups based on their replies (for example how much pratice they have done) or by their demographic properties (e.g. age, education level, and type of living or working environment). Collection of psychological, demographic and experimental data is carried out online using data collection tools that are developed and tested by our research team, tools that to a large extent are already in use for an older twins cohort. The genetic effects of the established connections can be identified by comparing identical (one embryo) twins with two embryos, who share as many genes as normal siblings. The methods used  in this type of comparison are collectively called Twin Modelling.

The overall questions for the programme are as follows:

  • What makes people engage in music och train their musical abilities?
  • Which factors make musical training less or more effective?
  • How much, and in which manner, is musical training associated with the various health indicators?
  • How does the association between hereditary and environmental factors interact with the established connection between cognitive and rythmic ability?

The programme is further divided into six sub-projects. In project 1 the importance of external environmental factors (childhood environment, musical training e.t.c) and personal variables (personlaity, motivation) will be charted for musical training and activity. In Project 2 genetical and non genetical associations between musical training and musical ability will be analysed, with the hypothesis that musical ability has components that are both dependent and independent of training, where genetics play and important roll in both. Project 3 focuses on the associations between musical training and general cognitive ability. The positive association here is well documented, but we will study the underlying mechanisms, for example which components in musical performance are important for the observed effect (lessons vs rehearsing alone, reading music vs learning by heart e.t.c). Project 4 charts the genetical and non-genetical components found in the association between rythmical stability and cognitive ability. In project 5 we analyse how creativity and success within the field of music depends on personality, motivation, training and other environmental factors. In project 6 the connection between musical engagement and physical and psycological health is in focus. The relationship between active musical engagement and passive participation in cultural activities (including listening to music) on the one hand, and health factors on the other will be characterised.

In conclusion, the programme uses established associations, together with a combination of our project leaders’ specific skills, new technology for data collection, the unique possiblities offered by the Swedish Twin Registry to analyse mechanisms that up until now have been impossible to study.

The programme is supported by a 7 year grant from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and generous donations from Vetenskapsrådet, Sven och Dagmar Saléns Stiftelse and Kjell och Märta Beijers Stiftelse. Ethical permission for the programme has been granted by Regionala etikprövningsnämnden in Stockholm (dnr 2011/570-31/5).